I know because I learned the hard way ...
I’ve known it for a while now, but never really admitted it. I’m an airplane crier.
What does this mean?
Well, for me it means as soon as I’m up in the air, it’s like a permission slip to feel whatever I’ve been avoiding, minimizing, or “not having time for.”
It’s letting out those feelings I just don’t want to feel, or that I judge myself for feeling, which, in my world, show up as my sad and tender feelings.
I wasn’t always like this — an airplane crier — but I can remember exactly when it started.
I was traveling to where I grew up, just a couple of weeks after my now ex-husband woke me up, dropped his ring on the nightstand, and told me out of the blue that he was leaving and wanted a divorce. From the moment I heard the clank of his wedding ring hitting the nightstand I was pretty much in shock — numb to most of my feelings and unable to wrap my head fully around what was going on.
On this trip, I was flying to check in on my family, who, like me, was shocked by the news. If I’m being fully honest, I was really going in order to prove to them that I was “fine," that I’ve got this, and that I was basically Wonder Woman, with plans to melt down our wedding bands and make myself an even bigger bullet-proof gold bracelet to shield myself with.
While sitting there numbly waiting for my now-delayed flight, I got a text message from a friend who was ready to share some information she'd apparently been appointed to tell me.
Her first question: “Marie, how much do you want to know?”
I, tapping on my numbness shield to make sure it was still solid and shiny, replied, “I want to know all of it.”
She then proceeded to tell me through one text after another the information that she (and some of the other people who worked with my ex husband) felt was important to tell me.
One ding of my phone to the next I see the words flash by.
“You know her.”
“They are living together.”
The airport seems like a good place to hear this information. An airport in which I can’t leave, where my flight has been delayed, and where I have nothing else to keep me occupied.
I continue texting with her until it’s finally time to get on my plane, telling her thank you for the information, that I’m sure on some level I already knew, and that I was “fine.”
I boarded the plane and sat in my favorite emergency row seat (which felt pretty ironic). I was putting my phone away when I realized to my excitement the rules had changed since my last flight and I was now allowed to listen to music during take off. This was exactly what I needed!
Ear buds in, no talking to the person sitting next to me, just blank staring out of the window. Then something happened.
As we climbed above the clouds, now during sunset since my plane had been delayed, listening to the sappiest music I could possibly listen to, I began to process the “textastrophic” news that was still sitting on my phone. I didn’t need to even look at it.
I stared out the window watching the sunset at such a beautiful vantage point above the clouds — and completely melted.
I cried. I sobbed. It was like for some reason I needed distance to feel what was going on. Distance from the Earth. Distance from all the people I was trying to hold it together for, to be brave for, and to take care of. Distance from him. I needed my own air space to feel what I was feeling, air space to allow myself to go to that part of my heart that I had been avoiding. The one that holds the hurts.
For a brief second I realized I wasn’t by myself, that as I was sitting there staring out of the window with my ear buds on listening to the sappiest music ever, the 20-something-year-old guy next to me was jamming out to whatever he was listening to. It was a full-out jamming. I smiled at his lightheartedness and for a moment tried to pull myself together as if I was thinking that my emotions would somehow disturb him in some way. I didn’t want him to see me crying.
He reminded me so much of my sons, and while I was attempting to take on some weird “moms don’t have emotions” role with him, he gave me permission. Without skipping a beat or even looking at me, he reached over with human tenderness — and laid his hand on my leg. My tears were not going to be turned off now.
He gave me the permission slip I was desperately needing, one in which I wasn’t able to give myself at that time.
I cried looking out of the window all the way to my destination, while witnessing this fabulous human being next to me take care of himself in the process. We never talked, We never looked at each other. Both plugged into the worlds we needed in those moments to feel whatever was ready to be felt.
Since then it’s like my body equates the altitude with permission for tears. From then on, throughout my transitioning out of my marriage, I became an airplane crier.
Don’t get me wrong, I knew divorce was the right thing for me. I loved that this was happening — and I also felt other things too. Things that I didn’t always allow myself to lean into.
So, I kept opening up to them while I traveled.
I cried my way to San Diego. I cried to and from Chicago.
In December, when I went across the world to find myself, I cried over a bunch of states, a few oceans, and multiple countries. It was somewhere in the airspace that separates South Korea and Bali, Indonesia, I realized that airspace was now my safe space.
I realized I wasn’t numb after all, I just needed to feel safe, and I found that safe spot to allow the vulnerability and permission to feel.
We all need that, and what I learned in allowing my emotions out in that first “airplane crier” event, was that in the vulnerability and truth of what I was feeling, I allowed connection. Connection to myself and the other human being sitting next to me.
I realized it was okay to lean into my humanness, and it was okay to let other people in. It didn’t have to be a big, dramatic thing — there wasn’t even eye contact — but for me, it was that connection of his hand on my leg that brought me back to my truth.
I had feelings, and it was time to feel them.
To all my fellow Wonder Women Numbkins, I ask you to think about your safe space. Where do you give yourself permission to take off the bracelets and just be in the truth?
I think Wonder Woman herself would agree there's much more strength in feeling our truth than holding back the most precious ways we show up as humans.
Find your safe space and just be.
Be in whatever you are feeling. Allow yourself to lean into your humanness. Witness your own story.
Be in your own vulnerability, even if you start so far away from it all that you're hanging in the airspace above our dear planet Earth.
Marie Celeste is a Marriage and Family Therapist whose practice includes both traditional and holistic techniques that come from a place of connection, compassion, collaboration and courage. Her goal is to hold a space for you to reconnect with your inner-self in order to build from your own internal wisdom of healing and growth.